By Judy Andreas
The day was a gift. It was December in New York, the time of year when snow and cold typically chase thoughts of Spring into nostalgia. However, on this day, the weather was reminiscing. It was fifty-five degrees and I was strolling leisurely up Sixth Avenue, looking in shop windows and smiling at the passersby.
It was then that I saw her. She was sitting on the sidewalk behind a sign. A little cup was placed next to her. The cup contained a few paltry coins. The sign said "Please help me. I am homeless." Her head was down as if she were hiding her face. However, she could not hide her hopelessness.
I put a few dollars in her cup and sat down beside her. We began talking. I asked her if drugs was one of the reasons that she was on the street. She replied "No, my mother and stepfather are the reasons I am on the street." Her eyes were clear and I knew she was telling the truth. My mind filled in the blanks of the story. I sat on the street with her and we talked. She said "I am 22 years old." The words cut deep into my soul. My son is 22 years old and his world overflows with love. I wanted to give her a meal, a bed, a home, a family.....some hope. Instead, I discussed her options with Social Services. She seemed grateful for the money and the words. I left..feeling a tremendous sadness and inadequacy.
Homelessness is common in New York City. I do not know the statistics and I almost do not care. Statistics are cold and unfeeling. Statistics do not describe the lost, lonely and confused. Statistics do not describe the look on this young woman's face. One homeless person is one homeless person too many.
As a child, I lived in a beautiful brownstone in Brooklyn, NY. Several of the rooms had bay windows, and crystal chandeliers adorned the lower level. It was a beautiful house and yet, for me, it was never a home. I looked at my friends in small apartments and envied the real or imagined "coziness." Was it merely a projection of my longing?
When I graduated from College, my first act was to pack and leave my family of origin. I moved in with a couple of friends in the East Village. On the visual level, the apartment left much to be desired. On the emotional level, it was a palace. The word "home" had found a definition.
My mother came to visit me "How could you move from such beautiful surroundings to this squalor?" She would have said worse, but my mother did not curse. She once tried to say the "s" word and it got stuck before exiting her mouth. My mother could not have understood what I was experiencing. My words would have been useless, and what's worse, hurtful.
That apartment on East 7th Street was my first home. Eventually, when I married and had children, I tried to create an environment in which my children would feel loved and validated. There were many lean years of single parenting but they were always loving parenting. I used to say "you have to love your children to death."
I have worked in Social Services for 11 years and have intimately interacted with the disenfranchised. I have developed close and caring relationships with people who society regards as nuisances and freeloaders. I have learned the reasons for their pain and heartache and, what might be labeled, "poor choices" My life has been enriched by these relationships, and when the day came to close each case, a piece of each person lingered behind and I was made greater and richer for having known them. They gave me as much as I gave to them, maybe more, though they would have had a difficult time owning that reality.
And there she was sitting on Sixth Avenue, in a cold and uninvolved city; a rejected 22 year old whose horrors I could barely imagine. That moment became a religious experience of a sentence I have parroted emptily in my past. "We are all One."
I left myself sitting on Sixth Avenue on that beautiful springlike December day.
Copyright 2004 Judy Andreas



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